- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

The Army announced murder charges yesterday against three American soldiers in the May 9 deaths of Iraqi detainees.

A brief statement in Baghdad did not identify the three soldiers or their ranks. It said they are members of the 101st Airborne Division, based in Tikrit, and were being held in pretrial confinement in anticipation of an Article 32 hearing that could lead to courts-martial. The military said three Iraqi detainees were killed May 9 near the Thar Thar Canal in northern Salahuddin province.

The case could be the first in a series of murder charges against soldiers and Marines in the deaths of Iraqi civilians. The command is conducting a forcewide retraining program on the importance of ethics and protecting noncombatants. The murder counts send a message to the troops that the military is prepared to lodge the ultimate charge against its own in the confusing environment of counterinsurgency warfare.

Two major cases remain under investigation. The Marine Corps is holding seven Marines and one Navy hospital corpsman at Camp Pendleton, Calif., while the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) probes the death of an Iraqi man in April in the town of Hamandiyah.

The NCIS also has been investigating the killing of 24 civilians by Marines Nov. 19 in the Anbar province town of Haditha. Criminal defense attorneys have said they expect one or more Marines to be charged with murder in that case. The Marines’ attorneys say they did nothing wrong. They say the deaths came after their convoy was attacked by an improvised explosive device, and they cleared three houses in which civilians and suspected insurgents were interspersed.

In the 101st Airborne case, the military did not release the official charge sheets that typically identify the accused and provide more details. The statement said the three enlisted soldiers face charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat and obstruction of justice.

“On the day the alleged murders occurred, the unit commander ordered an inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three detainees,” the statement said.

This is not the first time the military has filed charges in the case of a detainee death in Iraq. But no soldier has been convicted of murder. The most serious sentence in a detainee-abuse case was a 10-year sentence handed to former Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., who supervised the abuse and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

In the global war on terror, the Army has processed more than 56,000 detainees and is holding about 15,000 in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Army has conducted more than 600 criminal investigations resulting in charges against 251 soldiers who went before courts-martial or faced administrative punishment.

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